The arm wrestling between Fatah and Hamas that culminated in a sweeping victory for Hamas bode well for journalist Alan Johnston, mainly because it was Ismail Haniyeh and not Mahmoud Abbas who decided that his release would serve "the Palestinian interest." Johnston's release, according to Hamas' calculations, is liable to bring an international dowry with it, not just a local one, especially because Hamas has already reaped one benefit: Britain talked directly with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal and Syria to facilitate Johnston's release, violating the global boycott of the movement. It was no coincidence that Meshal called the Syrian foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, to inform him of Johnston's impending release, and al-Moallem immediately updated the British representative in Damascus.
Johnston, as obligatory, did not forget to also visit Mahmoud Abbas and thank him. But this gesture could not change the facts: Abbas received the tip earmarked for the waiters. His main contribution was in Fatah's military collapse, which gave Hamas the victory and stoked its ambition to show it can institute a new order - an order that shook a few Gaza families, the Dormush family (which adorns itself with the title Jaish al-Islam - Army of Islam), and to some extent, several members of the Abu Samhadana clan.
The Johnston affair, and the tangled web of organizations and splinter groups involved in it, raises the question: How can Israel and Abbas continue to ignore the only force capable of managing the Gaza Strip? And no less important: Is there still any point in boycotting Hamas or the Israel Defense Forces' operations that result in the liquidation of several wanted men from Hamas and Islamic Jihad and, as usual, several innocent civilians?
Even if Salam Fayad's government bears the title of the legal Palestinian government, and Haniyeh's deposed government continues to cling to the title of the valid government, the era of the organizations has returned. One is Fatah's political arm, the other is Hamas'. These two political groups have no real authority. One "government" depends on Israel's goodwill and the other on the force of arms in a well-defined geographic area. One seeks perhaps to conduct peace talks, but is incapable of implementing the results, while the other is capable of implementing them but does not want negotiations.
Fatah, or the Fayad government, may receive 250 prisoners and money to pay salaries, but in the other region, Hamas is the one that will receive important prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit. In the West Bank, Abbas will continue to try to persuade the Israelis that only he can promote peace, but only Hamas can return Shalit, like Johnston, on the condition that it continues to intimidate Gaza's crime families. The Fayad government is not even able to enforce the official days of rest in Gaza.
This reality cannot sell the bluff that there is someone to manage the Palestinians' affairs, or that it is possible to maintain two separate Palestinian states. Jordan's and Egypt's foreign ministers, who are slated to arrive in Israel this week, will indeed conduct important talks with Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert on the Arab initiative, as if there were really a Palestinian representative, and as if there were an Israeli government that attributes political life to the Palestinian representative. But the photo ops that these visits generate cannot hide the main thing: one Palestinian state is being managed by two organizations and is threatened by several small organizations.
Another attempt to unify the Palestinian ranks is expected to take place this week when the head of Egyptian intelligence, Omar Suleiman, visits the territories and Israel. This is an important attempt that displays the differences between the Israeli delusion and the Egyptian/Saudi perception of reality, which is based on an understanding that the status quo is the threat and a Palestinian unity government is essential. But this important effort is liable to continue for a long time or collapse if it is not accompanied by a readiness to stop the international boycott of Gaza. The boycott's logic has so far created a dangerous organizational schism that serves the pointless Israeli assumption of "another wanted man and another senior member." It has not prevented even a single Qassam.
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